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    Wednesday, October 04, 2006

    Grizzly Bear @ The Independent, 9-29-06

    You know you’ve walked into some strange shit when the first opening act generates as much excitement as the headliner. As Tartufi set up, the club was still mostly empty, people clustered along the walls à la a middle school dance. I’d never heard of the duo and apparently few others had. But then a rowful of their friends surged to the front, cheering and whooping TRL-style. Another few people stepped forward tentatively. The local duo launched into their first song and almost instantly, more gaps in the crowd started to fill.


    The music brimmed with energy and force. Lynne Angel exorcised her spectral vocals over a driving guitar rhythm. They looped over and over, building a spooky intensity like fifteen ghosts set loose. Brian Gorman, drummer, guitarist and occasional megaphone-shouter, thrashed at his set like it owed him money. He was amazing, attacking the skins with nonstop agility. It all came together as something new: punk and prog and pop crunched together in some vital concoction. I’m not still sure that Tartufi’s kinetic performance can translate on record, but I’m eagerly looking forward to finding out. Their album Us Upon Buildings Upon Us was just released on October 2nd.


    Up next was the Papercuts, who faced an uphill climb. The band’s mastermind, Jason Robert Quever, came out alone. He strummed an acoustic guitar and sang a gentle song in a crisply lovely voice. But the crowd’s attention span seemed broken by the raised-volume theatrics of Tartufi. The white noise of thirty simultaneous conversations kept competing with Quever, who was too hushed to command our focus. The rest of his band came out afterward, but the battle seemed lost from the start. They interspersed a few louder numbers, nothing managing to stand out. It was a set that would’ve worked better in a bedroom or a smaller, more sedate venue. It would’ve helped too if people knew the material or if the band could’ve generated more of a presence. But we didn’t and they couldn’t.

    Finally, Grizzly Bear claimed the stage around 11:15. Tuning their instruments, they were easygoing and friendly, as I pondered which route they would take. The loud, brash sonics of Tartufi or the muted prettiness of The Papercuts? The latter seemed more obvious, given the intimacy and intricacy of Yellow House. But Chris Bear, in my interview with him, had promised a larger, fuller live sound. As it turns out, they delivered both, alternating between the dreamlike and songs so caustically electric they could’ve been covers by full-fledged capital-R rock bands. Material from Horn of Plenty received the most dramatic transformations, while more recent favorites like “Knife” and “On A Neck, On A Spit” were recreated more faithfully.


    The biggest surprise of the show, aside from it not being sold out, was how detached the crowd was. People clapped politely but not very enthusiastically, as if many were hearing the music for the first time. There weren’t many shouts of recognition when a favorite song’s opening notes materialized. And when Grizzly Bear walked off, wishing us a good night, a lot of the crowd followed suit. Some of us kept clapping and fewer kept cheering. Soon, it was just me and a kid with a pierced nose and a spiky tangle of hair shouting for their return. Then the lights came up and the burly security guards started to circulate.


    “Oh, man, that sucks,” the spiky-haired kid, “but that was still the best show I’ve seen all year.” I couldn’t really agree, although Grizzly Bear did indeed play a respectable but not incredible set. I don’t blame the band for not playing an encore given the tepidity of the crowd. It also can’t be too fun when an opening act like Tartufi had a quarter of your audience but a wilder cheering section.


    My epilepsy-inducing video of "Knife"


    "Lullabye" complete with stage banter

    * MP3: Tartufi - Track 01 from Us Upon Buildings Upon Us (album preview)
    * MP3: Tartufi - Track 07 from Us Upon Buildings Upon Us (album preview)
    * Band website: Tartufi
    * Band website: The Papercuts
    * Band website: Grizzly Bear

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